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Rising from the ashes

Notre Dame architecture students get a behind-the-scenes look at the restoration of Cathedral of Notre-Dame Twelve University of Notre Dame students were gathered in the offices of Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of France’s national monuments, on the Île de la Cité in Paris — nearly in the shadow of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. They listened, rapt, as Villeneuve described the moment he learned that the cathedral was on fire on April 15, 2019. “When the cathedral burned, I burned also. So, I was destroyed as the cathedral was,” he told them. “It was personal.”

Notre Dame architecture students get a behind-the-scenes look at the restoration of Cathedral of Notre-Dame

Twelve University of Notre Dame students were gathered in the offices of Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of France’s national monuments, on the Île de la Cité in Paris — nearly in the shadow of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

They listened, rapt, as Villeneuve described the moment he learned that the cathedral was on fire on April 15, 2019.

“When the cathedral burned, I burned also. So, I was destroyed as the cathedral was,” he told them. “It was personal.”

Villeneuve went on to describe how he was forced to quickly put his emotions aside that day and froidement — the English word “coldly” eluded him — begin making decisions about what to do to save the iconic monument.

“She could have completely collapsed. Nobody could know what would happen after the fire,” he said. “The fire began Monday and on Tuesday I was in the cathedral to observe, to analyze and to project the work needed to save her — not to restore, but to save her.”

This meeting came at the end of the students’ first full day in Paris, as they began a weeklong deep dive into every aspect of the cathedral’s rebuilding — talking with the architects involved, meeting with artisans and craftspeople and traveling to one of the quarries providing stone for the restoration.

Organized by a group of undergraduates from Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, the spring break trip allowed them to take a behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s most anticipated and closely watched restoration projects — and gain invaluable insight into the field of historic preservation.

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